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Jade rollers: Wrinkle-fighting wonder cure or sham?

Jade Roller

When I was a kid, my grandmother kept a clean metal spoon in the refrigerator. If her allergies would act up - or whenever she felt like her under-eyes were puffy - she would pull the cold spoon out and roll the rounded back beneath her eyes, for 30 seconds each. It's a cheap, easy beauty hack I regularly use myself these days. It is also a comparable yesteryear version of today's jade roller craze.

For the unfamiliar, a jade roller is pretty much what it sounds like: a hand-size, paint-roller-like apparatus with a cylinder of jade stone at one end. Jade rollers are said to have been a part of beauty routines among Chinese elites since the Qing dynasty, which began in the early 17th century; people who associate stones with certain properties claim jade has a special ability to heal and soothe.

Flash forward a few hundred years: In 2018, jade rollers were all the rage on Instagram, beloved by beauty bloggers across the globe. Their popularity can be attributed to their position at the intersection of two trends: increasing interest in both self-care and "natural" wellness products. You can acquire a jade roller for $12.99 on Amazon.com or $40 at Sephora; if you prefer rose quartz, that's an option, too - for $45 on Goop.com.

Some evangelists claim that the rolling motion of the stone on your face can help clear toxins and decrease puffiness, while others assert much loftier results: that regular use of jade rollers can erase wrinkles, stimulate collagen, tighten pores and potentially improve inflammatory skin conditions. They're often touted as an "anti-aging" tool (a phrase some beauty circles, such as Allure magazine, have banned).

In reality, explains Suzanne Friedler, a Manhattan-based dermatologist, jade rollers are about as effective as any form of facial massage when done correctly. "Any time you massage any of the tissues, you're increasing circulation. Your skin may look brighter, more luminous, maybe more contoured and less puffy," she says. "But if you're looking for substantive change, that's not going to happen with the jade roller. It's also not going to have an effect on inflammatory conditions like eczema or psoriasis."

Susan Bard, a dermatologist with Manhattan Dermatology Specialists, says that people need to be wary about the potential for jade rollers to transmit bacteria - if you're not disinfecting your roller, you may wind up doing more harm than good - and about overly aggressive usage. "The coldness of the stone can certainly help reduce puffiness. But the drawbacks are if you rub too vigorously, you can actually aggravate acne or create irritation." She agrees that using a roller regularly can have some skin-deep benefits, but adds that it's not the jade itself that's the special ingredient.

The heart keeps our blood moving throughout the circulatory system at a regular clip. But lymphatic system fluid - which contains white blood cells and plays an important role in protecting the body from germs and disease - flows more slowly and can be helped along manually. Massage in any form can decrease puffiness by helping to move retained fluid (known as lymph) out of areas where it has gotten stuck, explains Bard. Meanwhile, coldness, from a stone or even a metal spoon, can decrease inflammation by causing blood vessels to contract.

Elizabeth Taylor, owner and lead esthetician of True Beauty Brooklyn in New York, regularly incorporates manual lymphatic drainage into her facials. There are upward of 300 lymph nodes (essentially, checkpoints where lymph gets filtered for infection) in the face and neck, Taylor says; facial massage can help get the lymph moving and drained away. In turn, that can make your face look more contoured and give your skin that sought-after glow.

The good news is that you can also pull this off on your own: Using a face oil, serum or a silky face wash, pinch your thumb and forefinger together and, starting from the center of your chin, gently push backward along your jawline a few times. Then, place your ring finger next to your inner eye and, with light pressure, trace a half circle underneath your eyes, up to the temples. Finally, place the tips of all 10 fingers in the center of your forehead and draw your fingers outward. At the very least, the massage itself feels great.

If you do see an extra glow or reduced puffiness, don't get too excited. "These are all temporary results," says Friedler. Facial massage - with a stone or otherwise - is not a magical cure for all your skin complaints. Claims that using a jade roller helps stimulate collagen -the main structural protein of the skin - lack veracity: According to Friedler, the only way to do that is to traumatize the collagen with laser treatments, acid peels or retinoids.

Bard supplied one more caveat for anyone hopping on the "natural skin care" bandwagon. "There are natural things that do have benefits, like aloe, and there are natural things that you wouldn't want to put on your face - like poison ivy. Just because something has been around for a million years doesn't mean it's the best option. Scientifically proven products are always the best ones to go with."

This article was written by Elizabeth Kiefer, special to The Washington Post.

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